Croatan senior Lorena Montesano, No. 10 left, has committed to play soccer at UNC-Pembroke in the fall. (Zack Nally photo)

OCEAN — It’s safe to say to say Croatan senior soccer player Lorena Montesano will be keen to finally get out on the pitch when she attends UNC-Pembroke in the fall.

The Division II commit signed her letter of intent on national signing day, Feb. 5, before a senior season that was cut short by the COVID-19 shutdowns.

“It’s a huge bummer, but I also understand why it has to happen,” Montesano said. “It’s a good lesson for other classes to take note of – cherish every minute you have out on the field.”

The Cougars were 3-1 before the state turned to online-only education until at least May 15. With a loaded roster high on talent and experience, expectations were rightfully high for a program that was ranked No. 12 in the 2A.

“We thought we definitely could have gone all the way to a state title,” Montesano said. “It didn’t work out that way, but you never know, we could come back.”

The N.C. High School Athletic Association has not officially canceled spring sports, leaving a late window open for a possible playoff run.

Before the break, Montesano had notched one goal and an assist. As a junior, she tallied 17 goals and 14 assists to help the Cougars finish 21-4 overall and 14-0 in the 1A/2A Coastal 8 Conference. Croatan finished 12-7-2 overall and 9-5 in league play in 2018, with the sophomore posting 11 goals and nine assists.

Montesano attended West Carteret as a freshman, finishing with five goals as a varsity starter to help the Patriots to a 14-6-2 overall record and a tie for the 3A Coastal Conference championship with Jacksonville at 10-1-1.

As a junior, Montesano was pursued by UNC-Pembroke with a visit to the Battle at the Beach showcase during a match with Clinton.

“I remember it was a really ugly day, very cold and raining,” Montesano said. “That gave them their first idea of who I was, and then they saw me again when I was playing for my Wilmington club team.”

Montesano got the scoop about the school from Croatan 2015 alums and twin sisters Gina and Katy Ryan who both played soccer for the Braves. Gina Ryan set several benchmarks for the program as a standout goalkeeper.

“They came and watched one of our home games last year, and I got to talk to them about the school,” she said. “It was cool to meet them.”

When the school official offered, a visit to the campus sealed the deal.

“They made an offer so I went and toured the school in December,” Montesano said. “We made it official on signing day, but we just didn’t get around to do an official sit-down with my family and friends.”

Last season, the UNC-Pembroke women’s soccer program finished 14-5-1 overall and 8-3 in the Peach Belt Conference.

Montesano plays an attacking midfield position with the Cougars but could play a variety of spots at UNC-Pembroke.

“She’s going to have to find her niche, but I think she’ll do well,” Croatan soccer coach Paul Slater said. “She’s experienced, so speed of play won’t bother her, but it’s about how she’s paired with other players. She definitely makes things happen and gets us going forward with a good tempo. She’s a very positive player and a passionate leader.”

Montesano was doled out one more honor as a senior with selection to participate in the N.C. East-West All-Star Game on Tuesday, July 21, at MacPherson Stadium in Greensboro.

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